Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Jennifer Shaheen @techTherapist. For more than 15 years, Jennifer has been teaching customers how to build technology connections. Her company, The Technology Therapy Group is a premier firm, providing branding, marketing, and web services. She’s taught at Hofstra University and Johnson Wales. Currently, Jennifer is a coach with Social Media Magic University. She has written for NY Enterprise Report and Small Biz Trends. For more information, visit technologytherapy.com.
SmallBizLady: Why do I care about Google Analytics?
Jennifer Shaheen: When you’re a small business owner, you want to be absolutely sure that every dollar you spend is being spent wisely. This includes the money you’re spending on your website and digital marketing, including any social media activity you may be doing. Google Analytics provides a comprehensive look at your website traffic, including who your visitors are and where they come from, as well as detailing what people do when they’re on your site. You can use this information to judge if your online marketing is working as well as you need it to, and if not, identify where problem areas that need fixing.
SmallBizLady: How do I access Google Analytics?
Jennifer Shaheen: The simplest way to access Google Analytics is by visiting http://www.google.com/analytics. Additionally if you have a Google Adwords account, there is direct access there as well. All you have to do is click on the Tools & Analysis tab in Adwords. You’re going to see a drop down menu. Select Google Analytics, and you’re good to go!
SmallBizLady: What’s the first thing I want to look at when I’ve logged into Google Analytics?
Jennifer Shaheen: A great place to start is finding out how much traffic your website has, and where that traffic is coming from. The reports you’ll find under the Acquisitions Tab are most helpful here. The number of visitors is great as a benchmark metric: you’ll want to see that number steadily creeping up as you work on your marketing.
More important are your traffic sources. How are people finding your website? Google Analytics allows you to look at the different channels that visitors use to come to your site, including organic search, links from other websites or blogs, or social media. This is information you can use to assess the effectiveness of your marketing decisions. If you’re spending a ton of time or money on a specific traffic channel, for example a key phrase in Adwords, and you’re getting traffic but they are bouncing with in 3-5 seconds of reaching your site you could re-allocate that money to a more effective phrase.
SmallBizLady: What can Google Analytics tell me about the people who are visiting my site?
SmallBizLady: How does Google Analytics tell us how well our website is working?
Jennifer Shaheen: For this, you’re going to want to look at the reports that appear under the behavior tab. The Behavior Flow report is very likely to be your favorite. This is the set of reports that will tell you what pages your visitors arrive on, what content they look at, what actions they take on the site, such as watching a video or filling out a form, and even when and where they leave your site.
Using this information, you can determine what’s working and what’s not. If one particular article brings in all kinds of traffic, you’re going to want to provide more of that type of content! Looking at the In Page Analytics shows you what specific pieces of content capture visitor attention for the longest period of time. This means you can swap out non-performing content with new headlines, images, etc. – and then use the reports provided by Google Analytics to see if you’re being more effective in near real time.
SmallBizLady: What role does Google Analytics play in common e-commerce problems, like shopping cart abandonment?
Jennifer Shaheen: When a web visitor goes to the point of actually putting items in their cart but abandons the site without completing the purchase, we want to know why. What’s valuable about Google Analytics is it allows us to understand what the web visitor has done on your site after they’ve placed those items in the cart. Maybe they visited your return policy and left your site at that point. Maybe they looked at the shipping charges and decided they were too high. Did they go back and read the product specifications again and discover there something they didn’t like? Was it a trip to your FAQ page that sent them away? Google Analytics reveals the behavioral patterns that contribute to shopping cart abandonment. As business owners, we can go back and examine those patterns, identify and changing copy and imagery until we’re capturing more business than we lose.
SmallBizLady: What else does Google Analytics do for the e-retailer?
Jennifer Shaheen: Every e-retailer wants to become really familiar with the Ecommerce tracking reports. This is so valuable for any site that has an online shopping cart. When ecommerce tracking is set-up owners can understand what products are most popular – you’ll know what your best sellers are. Another great stat is the time to purchase report. Analytics keeps track of this information, which can help owners decide how to adjust their online shopping system. Online stores are just like physical stores: You need to move your inventory around and you need to put up different virtual displays. Analytics can help you understand what is working and, if you made changes, how it is impacting the sales pipeline. One of my favorite features in this report is the ability to clearly see what channels have the greatest conversions. This will let you know if your social media, referral marketing and adwords are really giving you a return on investment.
SmallBizLady: What if I’m not a retailer – what does Google Analytics do for me?
Jennifer Shaheen: Google Analytics is useful no matter what type of business you’re in. You could have a restaurant, a service business, even a B2B company. You still need to know that your website is attracting the right type of customers, and that your website is effectively converting their interest into action. Rather than eCommerce tracking, you’ll want to pay attention to goal tracking. Goal tracking allows you to identify a certain action – say booking a table through your reservations software or requesting more information about your services – as a goal. The stats tracked are very similar to those we see in the eCommerce report. You’ll be able to identify how visitors are moving through your site, how long it takes them to take action, and if there are any obstacles to their progress.
SmallBizLady: What do I do after Google Analytics identifies an obstacle?
Jennifer Shaheen: This is where your business judgment comes into play. Google Analytics doesn’t tell you exactly what the problem is. Instead it tells you there is a problem and where it’s occurring. Let’s say that you see a lot of your traffic abandons your site after looking at your pricing page. It’s up to you to determine if it’s the way your prices are presented that is the problem, or is there no clear way for your visitor to take the next step and close the deal after looking at your pricing, or is it that your prices are just too high compared to other vendors? This is a great opportunity to do some A/B Testing and make changes. Guess what — we can do that with analytics.
Under the behavior section, you will have access to a feature called Experiments. This feature can be very helpful when making decisions and changes regarding your content. You begin by creating the experiment; on this screen you will give your experiment a name and choosing an objective. The objectives can relate to existing ecommerce items like revenue or transactions or to increasing conversions on online appointment setting. You will then take the step to drive traffic through a variation of the page. Essentially testing the original page (A) against a variation of the page (B). Once the experiment is set up and running you can see if the position of the new image or that headline change made a difference in the outcome you were looking for from your visitors.
SmallBizLady: How do I know if the numbers I’m seeing on Google Analytics are good or bad? Is there a way to compare them to other businesses like mine?
Jennifer Shaheen: Running a small business is a lot like running a marathon: ultimately, you’re competing against yourself. When you’re looking at your Analytics, you want to see your traffic and your intended conversions steadily increasing, month to month. You may want to increase your traffic channels, so you have visitors coming to you from several different points. You want to see your visitors spending a decent amount of time on your site: if they’re leaving in under 5 seconds, chances are they’re not doing business with you! Look for steady improvement compared to your previous performance over the course of time.
SmallBizLady: What if none of the reports available in Google Analytics tells me exactly what I want to know?
Jennifer Shaheen: You can customize your Google Analytics reports! You just need to be clear about the difference between dimensions – the characteristics of your users – and metrics – the measurements of behavior – and you’ll be able to create your own reports. Also I found a great tool – the Google Analytics Solution Gallery. This is an area where others share reports they created that you may find value in. Google also puts up more reports in here under their account – The Google Analytics Team. Check these out; they can add additional value to your use of Google Analytics.
SmallBizLady: What does it cost?
Jennifer Shaheen: One of the best things about Google Analytics is the price. You’re getting tons of valuable information about your business website traffic for free. You don’t have to pay a dime. There is a cost, however, in terms of your time. For the typical business owner, I’d recommend blocking out at least an hour weekly to review your analytics reports. More is better, of course, but that’s a good starting point.
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